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Keywords: Media player, open-source software
Title: VLC Media Player
Licence: GNU Public Licence
Platform: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, BeOS
For many, if not most, Windows users the world of media players begins and ends with Windows Media Player. Despite the ever increasing encroachment of digital rights management (DRM) and the bloat that is added to every release Windows Media Player is still the default media player for many users. Of course there are lots of other media players to choose from, some commercial, some proprietary but free and some are free and open source.
Of the latter VLC is definitely one that is worth investigation. VLC began life as a student project at the French École Centrale in Paris but has since expanded considerably and is an open source project supported by developers from over 20 countries.
Licensed under the GNU GPL, VLC is a cross-platform media player that supports numerous audio and video formats and can also function as a DVD player, streaming server and browser plug-in. In addition to providing Windows binaries, there are binaries available for a number of other platforms including Mac OS X, BeOS, numerous flavours of Linux as well as WinCE/PocketPC and the Zaurus. Source code is also available for compilation on other supported platforms including Solaris and different flavours of BSD. As has been mentioned already, VLC supports a large number of file formats, including MPEG, MOV, AVI, ASF, WMx, OGG, WAV and more. The only major format not supported is Real. Supported media include files, HTTP, FTP, audio CD, DVD, VCD and a few others.
Installation on the Windows platform is straightforward, download the executable (around 9MB), double-click and follow the prompts. A few mouse clicks and it's done. On launch the program provides a fairly minimalist user interface, but all of the usual video controls are easily accessible. As with most modern media players VLC is skinnable, note that although only one alternative skin is supplied with the install there are plenty more available to download from the VLC website.
In addition to its use as a flexible and power player, VLC can also function as a media server. Full documentation is provided so that users with minimal previous experience can use VLC to stream media across a network.
As with Firefox, Thunderbird and a number of other major pieces of open source software, VLC is designed explicitly to be simple to install and use. There is considerable complexity under the surface of course, and the advanced options are enough to make all but the hard-core expert faint, but for the most part it's just a case of install and run. And, being open source it also means that it's possible for Windows users to install a DVD player on their machines without having to buy a codec or separate piece of software.
For developers the source code is there is a Subversion repository, and there's a developer site just waiting to be visited.
In all, this is a highly recommended piece of software.